|Publication number||US7136565 B1|
|Application number||US 11/137,297|
|Publication date||Nov 14, 2006|
|Filing date||May 23, 2005|
|Priority date||May 23, 2005|
|Also published as||US20060263026|
|Publication number||11137297, 137297, US 7136565 B1, US 7136565B1, US-B1-7136565, US7136565 B1, US7136565B1|
|Inventors||Jathan D. Edwards|
|Original Assignee||Imation Corp.|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (18), Non-Patent Citations (13), Referenced by (4), Classifications (20), Legal Events (5)|
|External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet|
The invention relates to fiber optics and, more particularly, to optical light guides that may be used as optical delay lines or other optical computing elements.
Fiber optics are commonly used for many applications, including data transfer applications and a number of optical computing applications. For data transfer, light is typically transferred down a length of optical fiber from a source to a destination. The optical fiber comprises a light guide that operates according to principles of total internal reflection (TIR). The light may be modulated as it is introduced into the optical fiber in order to encode information in the transmitted light. For example, information may be encoded in the light by switching the light on and off, modulating the light intensity, modulating the frequency and wavelength of the light, or various combinations. In some cases, a plurality of different frequencies of light can be multiplexed on a given light guide for simultaneous transmission.
Optical computing is viewed as a potentially high-speed alternative to conventional computing techniques. The goal of an entirely optical computing machine is to replace the electrical currents and voltages common in conventional computing techniques with manipulations of light. Current implementations typically rely, at least in part, on opto-electronic elements wherein electrical signals may be converted to optical signals, transferred or manipulated, and then converted back to electrical signals. However, purely optical computing aims to virtually eliminate the opto-electronic components altogether, and therefore, eliminate the need for conversions from optical to electrical signals. Light controlled gates, light to light transistors, light amplification devices, and a number of other optical computing components are currently being developed to realize practical optical computing applications.
One type of optical component that may be very useful for optical computing, data transfer applications, or other optics applications is an optical delay line. An optical delay line is generally a relatively long length of optical fiber that introduces a time delay to an optical signal. The amount of time required for light to traverse the optical fiber (at the speed of light through the medium) is referred to as the optical delay. Delay lines have many applications, including applications as short-term transient memory elements, timing elements, or phase delayed comparator devices. In some cases, micron adjustments to the length of an optical delay line may equate to changes in the optical delay on the order of pico-seconds, which make optical delay lines attractive as accurate timing elements.
Optical fiber, such as that used for optical delay lines, is typically drawn or extruded and then wrapped around a large spool. In some cases, the optical fiber may be drawn and then embedded in a resin to form a more rigid and robust optical part. Features may also be added to optical fibers, such as diffraction gratings, to facilitate manipulation of the light that traverses the fiber.
In general, the invention is directed to an optical element. The optical element may be an injection-molded part created in a manner similar to the creation of conventional optical data storage devices, such as compact disks (CDs) or digital video disks (DVDs). Unlike conventional CDs or DVDs, however, the optical element defines an optical light guide that traverses through the element. The optical light guide may comprise a spiral groove formed in an injection molded substrate, and the groove may be filled with an optical material having a higher index of refraction than the molded substrate. An additional material having an index of refraction that substantially matches that of the molded substrate may be formed over the substrate to encase the optical material in the optical part. Etched glass substrates or other substrate materials may also be used to realize the invention, but injection molded substrates yield cost and fabrication advantages.
Input and output elements may be formed on the optical element such that light can be introduced at the input element, traverse the optical material, and emerge from the output element. The input and output elements may be accessible at the inner diameter (ID) and outer diameter (OD) of a disk-shaped optical part that includes a center hole.
The grooves that define the spiraling optical element may define widths and depths of approximately 2–100 microns. While smaller grooves can define a longer light guide through a given substrate, larger grooves can reduce attenuation of light through the light guide. The widths and depths of the grooves may also be affected by the wavelength of light to be transmitted through the optical material in the grooves. Grooves having widths and depths of approximately 2–10 microns may be useful for single mode applications in which a single wavelength of light is transmitted through the light guide. Larger grooves, e.g., having widths and depths between approximately 30–150 microns, may be needed for multi-mode applications in which multiple wavelengths of light are transmitted through the light guide simultaneously.
In one embodiment, the invention provides an optical element comprising a substrate formed with a continuous groove, the substrate defining a first index of refraction; and a material in the groove to define an optical waveguide through the substrate, the material defining a second index of refraction, the second index of refraction being higher than the first index of refraction such that light can traverse the material in the groove via total internal reflection (TIR).
In another embodiment, the invention provides a method of creating an optical element comprising forming a continuous groove in a substrate, the substrate defining a first index of refraction; and filling the groove with a material to define an optical waveguide through the substrate, the material defining a second index of refraction, the second index of refraction being higher than the first index of refraction such that light can traverse the material in the groove via total internal reflection (TIR). The process of forming the continuous groove in the substrate may comprise injection molding the substrate to define the continuous groove, or possibly an etching process on glass or another material. For injection molding of the substrate, a master disk can be created to define a feature that corresponds to the continuous groove, and one or more stampers may be created from the master disk for use in an injection molding apparatus.
The invention may be capable of providing one or more advantages. For example, the invention may substantially reduce the cost of creating an optical element, which can be used for a wide variety of applications. In particular, the techniques described herein may allow the creation of optical delay lines without the need to draw long lengths of optical fiber. Instead, mastering techniques and high volume replication techniques may be used to define a substrate having a continuous groove. Optical material may then be deposited in the groove to define an optical light guide through the substrate. The described optical elements may also have improved quality relative to conventional optical delay lines. In addition, the described optical elements may have improved input and output ports formed by the mastering, replication and deposition techniques.
The details of one or more embodiments of the invention are set forth in the accompanying drawings and the description below. Other features, objects, and advantages of the invention will be apparent from the description and drawings, and from the claims.
In general, the invention is directed to an optical element and techniques for creating the optical element. The optical element may comprise an optical delay line or a similar optical part. The optical element may have a wide variety of applications in optical data transmission, optical computing, short term transient storing, applications for optical timing, or a number of other applications. Rather than drawing a long length of optical fiber, the invention can make use of mastering and replication techniques to define a long continuous groove in a substrate. Alternatively, an etching process may be used.
In general, the substrate may comprise glass, injection molded thermoplastic, polycarbonate, polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA), a transmissive plastic or possibly another material. An optical material is deposited in the groove to define an optical light guide through the substrate. Importantly, the optical material defines a higher index of refraction than the substrate, which allows light to be transmitted down the optical light guide via total internal reflection (TIR).
TIR generally refers to the phenomenon wherein light introduced into a light guide traverses the light guide by reflecting within the guide. TIR generally requires the light guide to exhibit a higher index of refraction than the surrounding environment. According to the principles of TIR, any light incident on the edge of the light guide at an angle less than the so-called “critical angle” cannot escape the light guide. In this manner, light properly introduced into one end of the light guide traverses through the light guide to the other end.
In accordance with some embodiments of the invention, mastering techniques may be used to define a master of the substrate used for the optical part (or an inverse of the substrate). The master can then be electroplated to define a stamper (or a family of stampers), which can be used in a mass-replication process. Examples of mass-replication processes that use metal stampers created from a master include injection molding processes, rolling bead processes, or other photoreplication commonly referred to as “2P” replication. In alternative embodiments, however, the substrate may be etched or machined to define the groove without the use of mastering and mass replication techniques.
Once an acceptable groove is formed in the substrate, an optical material can be deposited in the groove to define the optical light guide through the substrate. For example, the optical material may comprise a planarization coating that fills groove features of the substrate. Importantly, the optical material defines an index of refraction higher than that of the substrate, which allows TIR principles to apply to light transmission through the light guide. Input and output elements may be formed on the optical element such that light can be introduced at the input element, traverse the optical material, and emerge from the output element. The input and output elements may be accessible at the inner diameters (ID) and outer diameter (OD) of a disk-shaped optical part that includes a center hole.
In one example, the optical element may be an injection-molded part created in a manner similar to the creation of conventional optical data storage devices, such as compact disks (CDs) or digital video disks (DVDs). Unlike conventional CDs or DVDs, however, the optical element defines an optical light guide that traverses through the element. The optical light guide may comprise a spiral groove formed in an injection molded substrate, and the groove may be filled with an optical material having a higher index of refraction than the molded substrate. An additional material having an index of refraction higher than the optical material may be formed over the substrate to encase the optical material in the optical part. For example, the additional material formed over the substrate to encase the optical material may define an index of refraction that substantially matches that of the molded substrate. Alternatively, the optical material may remain exposed to ambient air, in which case the index of refraction of the optical material must also be less than that of the ambient air.
The grooves that define the spiraling optical element may define widths and depths of approximately 2–100 microns. While smaller grooves may define a longer light guide through the element, larger grooves can reduce attenuation. The widths and depths of the grooves may also be affected by the wavelength of light to be transferred through the optical material in the grooves. Grooves having widths and depths of approximately 2–10 microns may be useful for single mode applications in which a single wavelength of light is transferred. Larger grooves, e.g., having widths and depths between approximately 30–150 microns, may be needed for multi-mode applications in which multiple wavelengths of light are transferred simultaneously.
The optical element may comprise an optical waveguide formed in surface structure of disk shaped article, i.e., an optical waveguide disk. Uses or applications of the optical element may include uses as a data buffering delay-line, an optical MUX/DEMUX, and a sensing element. In general, the optical waveguide disk provides advantages in fabrication complexity and cost and size, as compared to conventional fiber delay-line technology. Again, the optical waveguide disk may be fabricated using either a glass substrate with an etching process or, at lower cost, an injection molding process similar to that used in the creation of optical recording media such as CDs and DVDs. Other substrate materials may also be used, particularly if etching or machining is used to define the grooves.
Optical element 10 may also comprise an input element 16 to allow light introduction into the material in groove 14 and an output element 18 to allow light extraction from the material in groove 14. In the illustrated example, optical element 10 defines a disk-shape, although other shapes could also be used. The disk-shape is useful because it facilitates mastering and mass-replication similar to the creation of conventional optical storage disks. Groove 14 may define a spiral pattern through substrate 12, although the invention is not necessarily limited in that respect. In another example, the groove might alternatively traverse back and forth in alternatively prescribed patterns through a substrate of any desired shape. In the illustrated example, input element 16 and output element 18 are defined at the inner and outer diameters of substrate 12 respectively, although these positions of the input and output elements 16 and 18 could be reversed. A center hole can be punched in substrate 12 to define the inner diameter and allow for access to input element 16 at the edge of the center hole. Output element 18 may be accessed via the outer edge of the outer diameter of optical element 10.
In some cases, a second material (not shown in
The depth (D) and width (W) of groove 24 generally defines the dimensions of the light guide through substrate 22. By way of example, the width of groove 24 may be between approximately 2 and 150 microns. At dimensions smaller than 2 microns, light transmission through material 25 may be difficult at wavelengths commonly used for optical data transmission and optical computing. In general, the dimensions of groove 24 should be approximately five times the wavelength of light to be transmitted through material 25. In other words, the dimensions of groove 24 should be approximately one-half of an order of magnitude larger than the wavelength of light to be transmitted through material 25. At practical wavelengths less than a micron, the dimensions of groove 24 should typically be larger than 2 microns. Notably, as wavelengths of light become smaller than 400 nanometers, the available materials that may transmit such light via TIR become very limited.
The depth (D) of groove 24 may also be between approximately 2 and 150 microns. The depth (D) may be approximately equal to the width (W). In other words, the aspect ratio of grooves 24 may be approximately one-to-one. It is generally desirable to limit the width of grooves 24 to allow for a longer length light guide through substrate 24, but also desirable to enlarge the width of grooves 24 to improve light transmission. Widths and depths in the range of 2 and 150 microns may work well for most wavelengths (i.e., 1–2 microns) currently used in optical data transmission and optical computing.
A single mode optical waveguide generally refers to an optical fiber that is used to transmit a single frequency of light. For such applications, the width (W) and the depth (D) may be between approximately 2 and 10 microns. In contrast, a multi-mode optical waveguide refers to an optical fiber that is used to transmit two or more frequencies of light simultaneously. For such multi-mode applications, the width (W) and the depth (D) may be between approximately 30 and 150 microns.
Unlike optical element 20 of
An optical light guide (also referred to herein as an optical waveguide) is generally an optical conduit transmitting light of a range of wavelengths from one position to another, as guided by the physical boundaries of the optical light guide. An optical fiber is one form of a conventional optical waveguide wherein the light input into one end of the fiber is conveyed with very low losses down the fiber by total internal reflection (TIR). An optical fiber may include a core and, optionally, an outer cladding. Conventional optical fibers typically define a cylindrical shape. Such conventional optical fibers are created by drawing the material of the guide from molten glass furnaces. Plastic materials have also been used for lower cost optical fibers, usually with lower performance.
Optical fibers classified as multi-mode step-index fibers typically include a 30–100 micron core. In contrast, single mode fibers may define a core of 2–10 microns. Optical fibers may also be characterized as graded index fibers, which include a diffraction grading to separate or filter light through the guide. Guides may also be elliptical core fibers that are polarization preserving. Optical waveguide devices can also be fabricated in a planar or rectangular geometry for use as switching elements, modulators, beamsplitters, spectral filters, polarization components, etc. The techniques and optical delay-line elements described herein may be used in conjunction with devices of this type which may be incorporated in the same optical article (i.e., disk). Furthermore, the elements described may include any features that are typical to conventional fibers that are drawn and spooled.
Moreover, the physical dimensions of the grooves (e.g., grooves 14, 24 and 34 in
In telecommunication, a delay line is a transmission line or equivalent device used to delay a signal. A delay line can be used to ensure that a signal input is later output after a precise (possibly programmable) delay of time. Historically, magnetostrictive delay lines have been used as memory elements. Fiber optic delay lines have been proposed for the advantages of low insertion loss (i.e., attenuation on the order of 0.5 decibels/kilometer at 1.3 micrometer wavelength independent of modulation frequency). Fiber optic delay lines also have relatively short delay times. For example, 1 kilometer of optical fiber generally equates to approximately 5 μs time delay. Moreover, fiber optic delay lines may also exhibit a relatively large time-bandwidth product (exceeding 105 at 1.3 micrometer wavelength). Re-circulating delay lines, tapped delay lines, and lattice optical signal processing have been proposed for the optical signal processing applications of frequency filtering, bit-rate converters, convolution and correlation and matrix operations. Because of the lack of optical random access memory in optical computing, an optical delay line may be the only means of optical buffering in optical signal processing architectures and optical computing. The optical elements described herein may be used to produce high volume low cost delay lines, which may find application in a wide variety of fields and devices.
Commercially available fiber optic delay lines are conventionally composed of a spool of optical fiber with length on the order of up to 1–5 kilometers, depending on the capacity or delay required. Such conventional delay lines may include a transponder capable of processing signals transmitted through the fiber. Current pricing for conventional delay lines typically range from $200 (100 meter) to $950 (5000 meter), with package size of approximately five square inches (32.26 square centimeters) by one inch (2.54 centimeters), two inches (5.08 centimeters) or three inches (7.62 centimeters) thick, depending on fiber length. Again, the techniques described herein may be used to create optical elements that can operate similar to conventional delay lines, but may be fabricated at a fraction of the cost of such conventional delay lines.
In this invention, an optical element (10, 20 or 30) may comprise an optical waveguide disk. The disk can be fabricated beginning with a patterning step similar to conventional optical disk mastering, but with reduced resolution since waveguide dimensions should be on the order of microns rather than sub-micron feature dimensions for optical disks. By mastering a spiral groove of desired cross-sectional width and depth suitable for either single mode operation or multi-mode operation, conventional processes may be used to form an optical delay-line of length equal to the mastered spiral length.
Furthermore, analogous to convention optical mastering functions of wobble and power modulation, master recording waveguides with modulations in groove width or with wobbled groove with particular characteristic lengths may be used for optical spectral manipulation in like manner to the Bragg grating. Depending on the spiral pitch and the disk size, the optical waveguide disk may have varying spiral length and, thus, varying delay times. As an example, the new and emerging “Blu-Ray” optical media product has the shortest track-pitch of conventional optical products at 0.32 microns. In this case, if an optical waveguide were formed in the groove of a Blu-Ray disk having a 120 millimeter OD, the spiral length would be almost 25 miles (40.23 kilometers), yielding an optical transit time of 132 microseconds (assuming the speed of light in a vacuum). In this case, however, the waveguide dimensions would be too small for conventional telecommunication wavelengths.
Of course, the disk size may be made non-standard in relation to typical optical disks in diameter and thickness, particularly if such non-standard sizes are needed to increase the length of the delay line or otherwise advantageous for delay line or other optical computing applications. By way of example, a disk sized similar to conventional CDs or DVDs and having a spiral track pitch of 3 microns can allow a 2 micron waveguide width dimension that equates to approximately 2.63 miles (4.23 kilometers) of waveguide length and an optical transit time (assuming the speed of light in a vacuum) of about 14 microseconds. For a 50 micron spiral pitch suitable for a multi-mode waveguide, the spiral length would be 0.16 miles (0.26 kilometers), resulting in a free-air transit time of 0.85 microsecond. The data capacity for the optical delay line, of course, would also depend on the frequency limit of the optical modulators used. Multiplexing (i.e., using WDM techniques) can multiply the data capacity by N separable optical channels.
Referring again to
Once the desired stamper is created, the stamper may be used to create a grooved substrate (46), e.g., using an injection molding process, a “2P” replication process, a rolling bead process, or the like. The groove in the substrate is then filled with optical material to create a light guide through the substrate (48). Optionally, a cover layer may be formed over the substrate to encase the light guide within the substrate and the cover layer (49).
Master 78 may comprise a disk-shaped glass substrate 76 coated with a photoresist layer 77. Other substrate materials of suitable optical surface quality may also be used. In any case, master 78 is carefully placed in system 60 on spindle 67. Mastering optics 68 include a laser source and various optical conditioners and generally provides light that exposes photoresist layer 77 according to commands by system control 62.
Spindle controller 64 causes spindle 67 to spin master disk 78, while optics controller 65 controls the positioning of mastering optics 68 relative to master 78. Optics controller 65 also controls any on-off switching of light that is emitted from mastering optics 68 in order to vary the characteristic of the mastered groove. As master 78 spins on spindle 67, optics controller 65 translates mastering optics 68 to desired positions and causes mastering optics 68 to emit light that exposes photoresist layer 77. The exposed photoresist layer 77 can then be developed with a developer solution to remove exposed or unexposed photoresist material (depending on whether a positive or negative resist is used) to define the groove in master 78.
Stamper 102 of
A number of embodiments of the invention have been described. In particular, an optical element has been described that has potential applications in a wide variety of fiber optic transmission and optical computing environments. Different techniques for creating the optical element have also been described. The described optical element may be coupled to a transponder capable of processing signals transmitted through the light guide formed in the element. Nevertheless, various modifications may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. For example, the invention may be expanded to comprise a dual sided optical waveguide disk including waveguides formed on both sides of a substrate. In addition, multi-layer waveguides are contemplated by this disclosure, i.e., disks that include multiple layers of waveguides formed on one or both sides of the optical waveguide disk light guide. In yet further embodiments, multiple optical waveguide disks with optical coupling connectivity are also contemplated by this disclosure.
As yet another added embodiment, the described optical element may be used in a data storage cartridge that includes a transmitter and a receiver each coupled to the light guide disk within the cartridge. In that case, the transmitter may send data over the light guide and then resend the same data slightly before or upon receipt by the receiver. In this way, data may be continuously stored in a transient manner in an optical wave guide storage device. These and other embodiments are within the scope of the following claims.
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|U.S. Classification||385/132, 264/1.24, 385/31|
|International Classification||G02B6/10, B29D11/00|
|Cooperative Classification||B29C45/263, B29C45/0053, G02B6/122, B29L2011/0075, G02B6/1221, G02B6/2861, B29D11/00663, G02B6/138, G02B6/02033|
|European Classification||G02B6/122, G02B6/138, G02B6/122C, B29D11/00G, B29C45/00J, B29C45/26L|
|May 23, 2005||AS||Assignment|
Owner name: IMATION CORP., MINNESOTA
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:EDWARDS, JATHAN D.;REEL/FRAME:016606/0102
Effective date: 20050512
|Jul 29, 2008||CC||Certificate of correction|
|Jun 21, 2010||REMI||Maintenance fee reminder mailed|
|Nov 14, 2010||LAPS||Lapse for failure to pay maintenance fees|
|Jan 4, 2011||FP||Expired due to failure to pay maintenance fee|
Effective date: 20101114